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The Control of Cheetah Flies on Carnivores

All captive carnivores at our Carnivore Care Centre were burdened with the Cheetah fly, which resulted in a drop in condition and erratic/aggressive behaviour and required urgent investigation into long-term control of the problem.

After looking at the flies’ life cycle, different options were considered to reduce the numbers, taking practicalities into consideration. The two options adopted were removing grass in holding camps, to interfere with the life cycle of the fly, and administering medication topically or orally. As there are no wild cat species-specific registered medicines available in Namibia, three commercial products (with varying treatment intervals) for the use in domesticated cats and dogs were used. Strict precautions were taken to ensure the well-being of the cats when using the medication.

Preset markers were used, starting with the initial evaluation as the base line, to measure efficacy of each of the chosen commercial products. Evaluation markers also included visual monitoring of fly numbers on the cats, observation of behavior towards members of their social group and familiar humans, coat quality, body weight and level of disturbance by flies when the cats fed. Observations of each cat were made every four weeks, starting in November 2015.

The cats were nearly fly-free four weeks after the start of treatment, but more important were:

  • A change from aggressive/stressed facial and body posture to body language comparable to cats held on free range land.
  • A change in feeding behaviour from agitated interrupted feeding and aggression towards their counterparts, to using relaxed bite and chew motions.
  • Their coats became shiny, elastic, full of luster and, over a 3-month period, they showed weight gain.
  • The cats’ daily routine stayed the same and no side effects at all were noticed on any of the treated cats.
  • Although cheetahs and leopards were fly-free while being in the feed-run, the AfriCat in-house veterinarian was concerned that the fly was still visible in the environment. However, as they were not present on the cats it was safe to assume that the applied medication was still effective.

For the past fourteen months there has been no use of medication to control the fly numbers. Constant monitoring is essential. With occasional immobilization of park cats, the presence of the fly in its natural environment has been confirmed, thus proving that, in the feed runs, the control measures are effective.